Local author Liza Wiemer’s award-winning young adult novel, The Assignment, has inspired conversations about speaking out against hate, racism, injustice and antisemitism. Now, she’s working with the Holocaust Education and Resource Center (HERC) to provide copies of her book throughout Wisconsin schools as part of the state’s newly mandated Holocaust education.
The Assignment, winner of several young adult fiction awards and nominee for the 2022 Sakura Medal, follows two high school students who refuse to participate in an assignment they were given in history class that asked them to argue for the Final Solution, the Nazi plan for the genocide of Jewish people. The school administration, the student body, the local town and the online community are all affected by this assignment given in high school history class, showing how one antisemitic assignment can touch an entire community outside the classroom – and how speaking up for what is right can have an even bigger ripple effect.
“An assignment like this can have a devastating and long-lasting impact, and so one of my goals for writing this book is to prevent assignments like this from being given and to prevent the kind of pain that goes way beyond the classroom,” Wiemer said.
The novel connects the history of World War II and the Holocaust to injustices we see today, helping young readers to see that history is still relevant and has connections to their own lives, according to Wiemer.
“This link between past and present makes The Assignment stand out among other books that address these topics,” Wiemer said. “We cannot teach history as if it’s only a part of the past. The connections to society today are critical, important and eye-opening.”
The novel, while fictional, is based on a real assignment that was given in Oswego, New York. Wiemer found out about the assignment from a Facebook post while visiting New York for a book signing for her novel Hello?. She quickly realized that she was in the exact town where the assignment was being given. Wiemer tells the full story on her website – it’s definitely worth a read – including how she met the young woman who would later be the inspiration for Cade, one of the main characters in the novel, at a bookstore nearby on the same trip.
“It was actually an author friend of mine that said ‘Liza, you know you were born to write this story. You have to write it,’” Wiemer explained what inspired her to write the novel.
Many other assignments like this one have been given across the country. In Wisconsin just this past April, Sun Prairie Middle School gave a similar assignment asking students to explain how a slave should be punished. After writing The Assignment, Wiemer has gone on many school visits to talk about being an upstander and speaking up against injustice and hate, seeing the importance of these issues being addressed, starting with the classroom.
On April 28, 2021, Gov. Tony Evers signed a bipartisan bill deeming Holocaust and genocide education mandatory in the classroom in the state of Wisconsin. HERC is providing extensive Holocaust curricula, materials and resources for schools across the state, including class sets of The Assignment with a supplemental curriculum guide and an author visit over Zoom at no cost while supplies last.
“It’s important to be an upstander against any form of injustice,” Wiemer said. “Whether it’s against bullying, racism, antisemitism, anti-LBGTQIAP+ hatred… We have to ask ourselves, why is it that I saw this and not someone else? Do I stay silent or do I take action?’ It’s not easy to speak up. We need to determine what’s right in the moment and do the best we can with the knowledge we have before us.”
Tax-deductible contributions to support The Assignment Book Fund may be made on HERC’s website or mailed to HERC, 1360 N. Prospect Avenue, Milwaukee, WI 53202 and specify “The Assignment Book Fund” in the tribute or memo. For more information or to request The Assignment for classroom use, visit holocaustcentermilwaukee.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.